1 out of 5
Created by: Álex Pina
covers season 1
Wow, what even is this malarkey? Is this 53 year old (as of this writing in 2020, the year this show came out) creator Álex Pina trying to tell us to embrace our power-trip fantasy pursuits of sex and money and general hedonism, damn the consequences? Given that that’s essentially the “lesson” imparted to us by lead Zoe Collins (Laura Haddock), despite every character having had their lives blown up by such pursuits, that would seem to be the case; yes, buried within these ten episodes there’s certainly the slightest awareness of that irony – if you can call doing endless drugs and ignoring the law = consequences some type of eventful revelation – but there are about 99,000 instances of lines like “he wanted to be the best DJ in the world” uttered in reverence about Axel Collins (Tom Rhys Harries), the boy who died young while doing all the sexing and moneying and drugging during glamourous, indulgent flashbacks of young, beautiful bodies humping in Ibiza danceclubs, so it’s more akin to someone telling you not to do drugs while coming down off of their high.
‘The boy who died young;’ that’s where White Lines starts, with the discovery of Axel’s body in Ibiza, to which he ran off (and subsequently disappeared) some time ago. Zoe, now a mum and wife, has traveled there to ID his body, and decides to stay there beyond when her husband and father are heading back home to Manchester to find out – once and for all – what happened to Axel. This takes her on a journey of (shallow) self-discovery, primarily involving sex, and extends our focus to Axel’s group of friends and the Calafat family, the daughter from which (Kika, played by Marta Milans) Axel had been dating prior to his disappearance.
Now, look: I would like to think I’m not a square, but admittedly, the clubbing and coke lifestyle has never been my bag. But I’ve softened on it as an enjoyable past time for many, and though I think most of us identify more frequent habits of this as something you do when you’re younger – and maybe just because it’s easier to recover from such things then – I can certainly also understand the allure of diving back in on occasion. We’re generally more accepting now of “responsible” drug use, and there is a storyline to explore for the tamped-down, lives-by-the-clock Zoe having new-kid-in-school fantasies of being in a foreign land, sans responsibilities of home, and allowing herself to dive into that. All of that would be fine. And buried deep, deep within White Lines is a show that combines that with the Axel murder mystery, showing how we can have these two separate lives – one of wishful hedonism; one of a more sober, public face – and how destructive not finding a balance between the two can be. But meanwhile, lets spend the majority of our time praising being the best DJ of all time and laughing at how much coke we can do while humping our boyfriends and girlfriends and orgy buddies. I mean, fuck, this is the type of show that digs in for a very tricky Oedipal storyline, and seems to treat it rather seriously… and then having given it its one scene of seriousness, makes it a punchline and forgets about it a scene later.
So if I’m not the type who’s romanced by this stuff, why am I here? Well, because of Álex Pina, whose Money Heist has become one of the more ridiculously addictive streaming shows in its latter seasons. But White Lines reminded me that Money Heist’s first season – when it thought it was a character drama, and was being led by Pina’s writing – was awful, with completely illogical, cookie cutter characters making sinfully stupid decisions, and acting – whadya know – wholly indulgently, and treating that like it’s just the norm. Only once Heist had lead writing credits from others did it shape up in to more of a dumb-but-fun adventure, focusing on heisting instead of its handful of annoying sexy-and-cute-and-carefree heisters. White Lines doesn’t even have the hook of its heist – it’s hard to care one bit about Axel’s murders when the flashbacks to his and Zoe’s childhoods paint him as a complete prat (and I don’t think that’s the point – the swagger and ‘tude of these flashbacks presents him like someone we want to be), and the piss-poor attempts at getting us to appreciate why this is so important to Zoe fall flat, as Haddock is written to be “impulsive” and emotional, but just comes across as the worst blend of milquetoast and insane. But supposing you ignored the characters, you’d still be waiting until the final episode for the show to turn the music down and get back to its supposed mystery, the conclusion of which only leaves one wondering why no one was able to piece together something that seemed pretty obvious.
There are a whole bunch of shots of “white lines” throughout the show, pretending like theyre layered imagery. Sometimes good actors (Nuno Lopes as Haddock’s Ibiza boyfriend, “Boxer;” Juan Diego Botto as a Califat son) have some good lines, but they’re surrounded by tripe. I kept hanging in there, thinking that the show would hit some “gotcha” turning point and flip all of the schmoozy Ibiza party sequences into the headaches of the morning after – and there’s a moment, past the halfway point, where Zoe discovers more about Axel’s past that suggests this – but just like everything else in White Lines, this moment turns out to be disposable, and soon after, flashbacks are all glossy and pretty and best-DJ-in-the-world* again.
*Nothing against DJs, or your dreams of being the best, but this isn’t a show about music, and does nothing to really explain what made Axel a “good” DJ except that he liked classical music, which we know is shorthand for being stealthy smart.